Air pollution and health
Air pollution can occur anywhere. It occurs when the environment is contaminated by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere. Stoves in the home, motor vehicles, industrial facilities and forest fires are common sources of air pollution.
Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Both ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) air pollution cause respiratory and other diseases, which can be fatal.
WHO leads Global Platform on Air Quality and Health
Air pollution is the largest single environmental health risk, estimated to kill 1 in 8 people globally, due to heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and cancer.
In 2014, WHO established a Global Platform on Air Quality and Health, bringing together international and national organizations to advance research and policy on outdoor and household air pollution. The Platform aims to strengthen the capacity to make global assessments of air pollution and its associated disease burden, as well as demonstrate any improvements in air quality and health achieved by mitigation strategies.
22 October 2015 - A new WHO report highlights the urgent need to reduce emissions of black carbon, ozone and methane - as well as carbon dioxide – which all contribute to climate change. Black carbon, ozone and methane – frequently described as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) - not only produce a strong global warming effect, they contribute significantly to the more than 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution.
WHO programmes and activities
Media and news highlights
- Air quality deteriorating in many of the world's cities
- 7 million premature deaths annually linked to air pollution
- Air pollution, Climate and Health-related side events at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP19)
Outdoor air pollution: a leading environmental cause of cancer
- Frequently asked questions on urban outdoor air pollution and health
- Fact sheet on outdoor air pollution
- Tackling the global clean air challenge